Abundant Optimism

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Routines for a More Productive and Happy Life

By Tamara Martfeld

I am sure everyone has experienced a long search for something that was placed somewhere other than the location we thought it was in, a frazzled morning where nothing seems to go right, an unproductive day at work due to many ad hoc activities, or similar experiences. While there is probably no way to eliminate all of these frustrating activities, routines can significantly reduce the number of times we experience them.

The definition of routine which I use is “a regular way of doing things in a particular order” (Webster), which is a little wider than the common definition of simply doing the same thing over and over. Under this definition I consider some habits to be routines.

If you have a routine to put items in specific places when you set them down, you can eliminate many of the long searches. For example, always place keys in a set location, always file important documents when you have them in your hand, always place items needing attention in the near future (such as bills) in a holding location until they are handled. The routine is the action you take when you have the item in your hand and can be part of a larger routine. For example, you walk in the door, set any packages on the counter, drop the keys to the house/car in the specific place, then sit down for a 15 minute well-deserved break (we all need breaks during the day to be more effective, we might as well make it part of a routine).

Frazzled mornings can be reduced and possible eliminated by a routine which starts the night before. The night before set out the clothes you plan to wear and make sure they are clean and ready to wear. This eliminates trying to make that decision in the morning as well as any surprises such as the item coming out of the wash with a spot on it (this has happened to me). Do this for anyone else for which you are responsible (such as kids). If you regularly pack a lunch, do as much prep as possible the night before. Go through the next day on your calendar and make sure you have any documents, gym equipment, etc. which you need to take with you in the morning. If possible, place these items in the car (I only recommend this if the car is in a locked location such as a garage). Decide on the breakfast menu and prep what you can the night before, even if it is only setting the table. In the morning you get up, take care of personal hygiene, dress, eat, and walk out the door. I am single and eat my breakfast at my morning break, and I can get up and out of the door in 15 minutes by following this plan. I have not had a frazzled morning since starting the routine. Of course, with additional people in the house there can be some challenges, but if you establish a good routine they will be less frequent. If you have kids, do them the favor of teaching them how to establish routines.

The unproductive work day can also be addressed with routines to a point. Some of this may depend on your boss, and if you explain to your boss that you are doing this to be more productive at work you should be able to get approval. Block out the first part of your morning on your calendar to do the things which should be done at the beginning of your day, then do these things in a given order each day. Simple routine. For me I block off one-half hour. During this time I check the subject and sender of any e-mails which arrived since I left the day before, check for any phone messages, and then prioritize my day based on this new information and any work left from the previous day. Much of my work is based on information received from certain people through e-mails, so prioritizing the night before (a common recommendation) does not work at my desk. Once this is complete, if time is available I will respond to e-mails. I wait until later in the day to return phone calls because I start the day earlier than most people who call me. Once the day starts I focus on the top priority item as much as possible. When ad hoc activity happens I address it by taking care of it or scheduling it for a later time depending on what it is. By doing this I generally get a significant part of my top priority item completed even when the day would otherwise have been frazzled. There are days when something come up which prevents me from even looking at my top priority item, but these days have become rare.

Hopefully you can see how routines can make you more productive. They can make you happier by reducing the stress in your life and giving you more time for fun activities by reducing the time you spend for activities such as looking for those keys. Well-established routines will also help you be more positive as you find you are spending less time on less fun activities such as housework and yard work.

A good source for great ideas for establishing routines can be found at Flylady.net.

Routines are a natural part of life. Even nature has routines. I hope you are looking forward to September with its wonderful colors and weather. Enjoy each season as it routinely comes and find the joy in each day which routinely starts with a sunrise and ends with a sunset.